Peter Wolf, Dave Alvin, Bob Geldof, Uncle Tupelo, Jimmie Vaughan, The Texas Tornadoes. Those are just some of the legends I was fortunate to share stages with at the legendary venue that changed my life and career.
History is always a bit revisionist, and there were, of course, other forces at play. But it’s honestly not much of a stretch to say that without Slim’s, Boz Scaggs, and Dawn Holliday, there would be no Preacher Boy. Now, whether that matters to you or not, I can’t say. Still, it certainly matters to me, and I will forever reserve a very special place in my heart for the venue that changed my life.
Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues was never built to last. If it weren’t for Slim’s, it most certainly wouldn’t have. There was only supposed to be one show, actually, at Bison Brewery, in Berkeley. That ragtag fiasco of a hootenanny miraculously led to a fill-in slot for a cancellation on a Saturday night at Paradise Lounge — prime real estate we certainly hadn’t earned. Dawn Holliday happened to come by and see part of the show. I was duly terrified. She had a reputation as being … tough. Instead, she was really positive about the band. So much so that she gave us an opening slot at … Slim’s!
That phrase. That phrase. That phrase. “Opening for [insert amazing band] at Slim’s.” Those blessed opening slots are unquestionably why, some 30 years later, I am still performing and recording. Of this, I have no doubt.
You wouldn’t believe the bills I got to be a part of — these are just some of the memories I can recall:
— Opening for The Texas Tornadoes, with Flaco Jimenez! Oooh, was I envious when our washboard player got invited onstage to join the band, and I didn’t? You bet I was! On the other hand, I was backstage when … Goose Gossage came down!
— Opening for Peter Wolf. Was he the nicest rock star ever? Quite possibly. He made a point of coming and finding every person in our band before the show, just to check in, introduce himself, say hi, and learn a little something about us. What a gentleman. He then proceeded to absolutely explode the stage with a staggering energetic and soulful show.
— Opening for Diamanda Galas. Did she lock us out of the entire backstage so she could do her vocal “exercises?” Yes. She did.
— Opening for Bob Geldof. If there is a rival to Peter Wolf for the kindest and most respectful rock star I ever got to share a bill with, it’s Bob Geldof.
— Opening for Uncle Tupelo. If I had known then what I know now, I would have realized I was a part of Alt-Country history that night. But I wasn’t that impressed with them, I have to confess. Richard Buckner was on the bill as well. Him, I loved.
— Opening for Jimmie Vaughan. I’m still mortified about this one. We opened for Jimmie not long after Stevie Ray passed, and if memory serves, I had the audacity to try and offer words of comfort to Jimmie. He was understandably … gruff with me. I’m still kicking myself all these years later. I just wanted to share the grief somehow; somehow explain how much his brother’s music had meant to me. But god, what an awful gaffe to have made. His show was brilliant though! No bass player, a B3 instead. It was incredible.
— Playing a Scaggs family wedding. Yep. I’ll leave it at that. But … yep.
— Bob Weir & Ratdog. Wow. What a show that was. The band was … amazing! Admittedly, I came away convinced that Bob Weir was the luckiest man in rock n’ roll. Couldn’t sing, couldn’t play, had the charisma of nougat. But, beloved, famous, and surrounded by a laser beam of a band. Quite a show.
— Joining the “Roadhouse Revival Tour featuring Dave Alvin, Dale Watson, Buddy Miller, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, and the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.” Not much needed to say about this show! For me, the highlight was meeting Dave Alvin. He was, is, and always will be a hero to me.
Hopefully, all the above is giving you a sense of just how magical that period was, and why it retains such a hold on my musical imagination. Slim’s was the jewel on the cushion of a music scene that was better than just about anywhere in the world at that time. When I think of all the acts that emerged from that scene and went on to major success, it’s an incredible list. Add to that all the brilliant musicians and bands that had beatific moments in the sun, only to flare and fade, and the richness becomes all the more resplendent.
All of us who were fortunate enough to be a part of that world owe a debt of gratitude to Slim’s, and to Boz, and to Dawn. They made something happen that, sadly, we may never see the likes of again. When the next Big Book of Musical History is written, I hope it affords many pages to the story of Slim’s. The story is an essential one, and I am so grateful to have been there, and to still be here. As Slim’s closes the doors of the building, I open the doors of my soul to let the spirits in, there to reside in safety for as long as I’m still able to make music.